Safely hidden from view, Georgia gazes upon the stranger as though caught in a trance. He climbs out of the water with graceful ease and slowly, lazily begins to dress, stripping off his wet clothes before slipping into a pair of dry breeches. Georgia inhales sharply, her first glimpse of a naked man leaving her both breathless and spellbound. He pauses and glances around, and for one beautiful, heart stopping moment their eyes meet. But then his face hardens.
“HEY!” he shouts furiously as he starts toward her. “You there!”
Georgia can hear the rage resonating in his words, and she instinctively turns around and begins to run away.
However, in her panic, she only manages to take a few steps before she trips and falls over a large, protruding tree root. Georgia tries desperately to get up, but the growth remains painfully and stubbornly snarled around her ankle.
As the man starts to approach her, Georgia throws her hands up defensively.
“Stop!” she yells at him. “I am a mage, good sir, and if you have even the slightest desire to leave here with your manhood intact then I would keep my distance. Impotence, hives, dismemberment, my mother taught me more than one curse to protect myself, and I would not hesitate to use any of them on you right now.”
To Georgia’s dismay, the man laughs at her threats. “Aren’t you a fiery one?” he chuckles, a grin spreading across his face. “How did you find it?”
“Find what?” she repeats confusedly. “I lost my-” Georgia pauses, considering her next words carefully. “I lost my way in the woods, and I was simply trying to get home again. I did not mean to intrude, sir, but if you desire privacy then maybe next time you should find a bathhouse to bathe in instead of stripping down bare out here in the open.”
He locks eyes with her once more, and again Georgia feels her heart freeze in her chest. At last, the man nods and breaks his stare, as though deciding to accept her story.
“You make a fair point,” he replies solemnly. “However, may I also advise you that a woman of your age and form should not be wandering alone through the woods without an escort. Ruffians abound in these parts, madam, and they would not hesitate to prey on a pretty young maiden such as yourself.”
Georgia scowls back at him. “Noted,” she huffs.
“Are you injured?” the man frowns, noticing her limp, twisted ankle.
“I’m fine,” she lies as she finally disentangles her foot from the tree. As though to prove her point, Georgia swiftly stands up, but as soon as her right foot touches the ground she screams out in pain.
“You’re not fine,” the man retorts, automatically reaching out to catch her hand as she starts to fall back to the ground. “Here, let me help you.”
Georgia grimaces but reluctantly accepts. “Thank you,” she mumbles.
“My horse is grazing in a pasture just beyond this knoll,” he tells her. “I will saddle him up, and if you wait here I can give you a lift home.”
Georgia’s eyes widen in surprise. “No!” she declares emphatically. “I mean, no. No, thank you. I will walk.”
“On that ankle?” he admonishes. “You won’t make it very far. Where do you live?”
“I’m heading that direction anyway,” he interrupts. “We can go together. It would be my pleasure,” he insists, his voice both gentle and stern.
Georgia blushes deeply. “Well, alright,” she whispers, refusing to meet his inquisitive gaze.
Wrapping her arms tightly around his waist, Georgia clings to the man anxiously. She can count on one hand the number of times she’s ridden on a horse, but despite her fears the animal proves quite tame and amiable, plodding along quietly through the countryside.
“Are you uncomfortable?” the man asks.
“No!” Georgia tries to laugh, but her voice comes out sounding pinched and squeaky. “No, I’m fine.”
“Then may I inquire as to why you are holding me so tightly?” he smirks.
“Oh! S-Sorry,” she stammers, loosening her grasp.
“Don’t be,” he replies as he leans back ever so lightly against her chest.
Georgia feels her cheeks burn with a mixture of excitement and embarrassment, but she refuses to let herself get carried away. She takes a deep breath, savoring the clean, musky scent of his damp hair, and tries to relax.
They ride in silence for a few more minutes, until at last the man speaks again. “I’m surprised,” he states conversationally. “It took me years of searching to find that spring, but you seem to have stumbled upon it by accident.”
“Yes, accident,” Georgia mumbles, deciding not to mention her bizarre encounter with Ari the cat. “But why? What is so special about it?”
The man pauses and shifts uneasily, as though debating whether or not to tell her the truth, but finally he speaks. “Growing up, my nursemaid used to tell me stories of a magical spring located somewhere on the islands that would grant three wishes to any soul foolish enough, daring enough, and determined enough to find it. I spent many afternoons as a boy roaming these forests looking for the fabled well, until one day I came upon that swimming hole back there. I knew immediately that it was the spring from her stories, but I decided to save my wishes until I better understood what I wanted from life. I have dreamed of that place ever since, and today I returned to make my first request.”
Georgia wonders how serious the man is being, but she does not laugh at his tale. “And?” she asks. “Did you get what you wished for?”
The man glances back at Georgia and grins flirtatiously. “Perhaps,” he replies.
Two men dressed in military garb approach them as they arrive in the village.
“Your Grace!” One of the men leaps from his horse and greets Georgia’s new acquaintance with a small bow. “We have been searching everywhere for you. Lord Draven has news from the capital.”
Georgia can feel the man’s body tense at the soldier’s announcement.
“Word from Praaven?” he frowns. “About Gwindor I’m sure.”
He dismounts quickly and offers a ready hand to Georgia, helping her down before turning back to the men.
“Sergeant Albright, come speak to me,” he commands.
While the men discuss their business in hushed voices, Georgia limps over to prop herself up against a nearby wall. Her ankle has really begun to swell now, and although she’s quite anxious to get home and start healing her injury she already feels like she’s imposed enough.
“Do you know who that is?” a haughty voice demands.
Georgia sighs and forces herself to smile. “Hello, Josephine,” she replies mechanically. “How are you today?”
Josephine smirks and smugly pats her large, pregnant belly. “Quite well, considering. I’ve been meaning to come by and see you, Georgie, but with a house to keep clean, a husband to tend to, and a toddler to look after I just haven’t managed to find the time. But I’m sure you understand how it is.”
“Well, it’s just me now, Jo, but even so my alchemy does-”
“Ah, yes. That’s right,” Josephine interrupts. “It must be nice, having time to flit about the islands as you please. I really do envy that about you, Georgie. No husband, no children, no responsibilities…”
Georgia grinds her teeth together irritably. Growing up, Josephine had everything George wanted in life. A happy family, a pretty house, good looks, and a large dowry, she married a well-to-do military officer once she came of age and within less than a year gave birth to their first child, a healthy baby boy named August. And although she tries not to be jealous, Georgia simply cannot stand Josephine’s bubbly, pretentious attitude.
Before she can muster a response, however, the man cuts in.
“Madam?” he begins in a notably gentler tone. “I must attend to some matters back at the manor, but Hutton here will escort you home.”
The soldier’s mouth falls open. “But Your Grace!” he exclaims. “I thought-”
The man silences him with a single, withering glare. “That is an order Hutton. You will see to it that the lady gets home safely tonight, or I will reassign you to a guard post in the Badlands. Understand?”
“I can take her home,” Josephine pipes up. “She doesn’t live more than a short walk from me, and I’m anxious to catch up with my old friend anyway.”
“No, but-” Georgia starts to protest, but Hutton interrupts her.
“Yes, good. It’s settled then,” he nods vigorously.
The man’s eyes never leave Georgia’s face. “You will be alright?” he asks her in a quiet voice.
Georgia’s cheeks flush as she looks up into his piercing gaze. “Yes,” she mutters with a small shrug. “Josephine will help me home. I’ll be fine.”
Worried but resigned, the man nods, and he and the soldiers mount their horses and gallop away in a cloud of dust.
A few days pass, and with a little encouragement from her healing magic Georgia’s ankle is already on the mend. Amara’s beau Griffin remains out of town, still detained on a business trip to the mainland, and so now that George can walk again Amara coaxes her into joining her at the tavern tonight.
To Georgia’s bewilderment, Josephine and her husband Jesse arrive at the inn shortly after them, and they promptly join the friends at their table. Georgia allows her more charismatic comrade to handle the small talk, but while she gets up to stoke the fire she overhears Josephine whisper something under her breath to Amara.
“With the duke of all people!” Jo pauses and glances around. “Yes, I’m sure it was him. I met the duke and his wife once before as a girl. I’d recognize his face anywhere.”
“But what in the heavens would George be doing with the duke?!” Amara exclaims in her typical, boisterous voice.
“Shhh!” Josephine quiets her with a giggle. “I don’t know, but it looked awfully suspicious to me.”
For the rest of the night, Josephine’s words play through Georgia’s mind. The idea seems ludicrous and ridiculously far-fetched, but at the same time it answers so many lingering questions about him.
But it can’t possibly, she tells herself. The Duke of Ambonnay would never associate with a commoner… Would he?
Although she would rather die than admit it aloud, ever since her run in with the mysterious stranger Georgia can’t think of anything or anyone else. The man captivated her in a way that no one else ever has, and she longs to see him again.
Even just one more time.
“Georgia!” Josephine snaps, pulling her back to reality. “Are you there?”
“Yes! Yes, I’m sorry. What were you saying?”
“I want you to help with the birth,” she announces enthusiastically. “My last labor went quite smoothly under your mother’s watch, but I don’t want to take any chances. You are trained as a midwife too, are you not?”
Georgia grimaces. “Yes, but-”
“Great! I know I can trust you, Georgie,” she beams.
The following weeks slip by in relative calmness as Georgia gradually establishes her place within the community as a gifted healer and apothecary, and the villagers slowly but surely grow to depend upon her to provide them herbal remedies and magical cures to their numerous ailments.
When not occupied with her work, George often tags along on her best friend Amara’s many adventures. While the older, more “respectable” members of town consider Amara and her mother Isolde little better than gypsies or vagabonds, the pair still manages to maintain a lucrative fortunetelling business. Indeed, their reputation as powerful seers reaches far beyond the edges of their small village, and folks from all over the islands travel to their cottage seeking insight into their problems.
Despite their strong friendship, Georgia and Amara constantly argue about one topic in particular.
“Please, George? Please?!” Amara implores.
“No, Mara!” Georgia exclaims. “He’s old!”
“Then what about Sam? He’s a nice fellow, and he really likes you.”
“Sam the Lamb? He barely knows his right foot from his left.”
“I prefer the nickname Sam the Ram,” Amara winks. “And does that really matter? It’s just dinner and sex, George, and trust me, Sam knows more than enough about the latter activity.”
Georgia glances at Griffin, who smiles back at her halfheartedly and shrugs.
“No! I won’t settle, Amara, and I’m doing just fine on my own, thank you.”
“Liar. You’re miserable. How can you not be? Obsessing about some stranger whose name you don’t even know. Besides,” she says as she turns toward Griffin. “It never hurts to explore your options. You might even like the guy…” she trails off, getting lost in Griffin’s eyes.
Georgia blushes and turns away, pondering her friend’s advice. Maybe Mara is right. Maybe she should make herself more available and perhaps lower her standards a bit, but she meant it when she said she’s doing fine by herself.
She steals another glance at Amara and Griffin, now wholly wrapped up in each other, and sighs wistfully. To be looked at the way he looks at her, touched the way he touches her, kissed the way he kisses her… She wonders if she’ll ever find a love as strong and true as theirs.
“He left me!” Amara wails as she storms into Georgia’s house unannounced a few days later.
Georgia drops her basket of herbs and runs over to her friend, allowing Amara to fall into her arms and weep.
“Oh, honey!” she exclaims. “I’m so sorry. What happened?”
“He called me a hypocrite. Said I sleep around on him but get ‘clingy’ whenever he even looks at another woman the wrong way.”
Georgia tuts sympathetically and guides her friend over to the bed.
“But doesn’t he have a point, Amara?” she asks as gently as she can. “I know you all never agreed to be exclusive, but you haven’t exactly been loyal to him.”
“But I’m not clingy!” she protests through her tears. “He could sleep with any woman in the village, and I would be fine with it. He could sleep with you, even, and I wouldn’t care in the least.”
Georgia frowns at her skeptically but holds her tongue. Her friend needs a shoulder to cry on right now, not a lecture or an argument.
After her heart wrenching split from Griffin, Amara begins spending all of her time at Georgia’s place, only going home for a few hours each day to check on her mother and help out with their business. Ordinarily, Georgia would not mind the company or the extra pair of hands around the house, but Amara frequently invites male guests to stay the night with her, leaving George to fend for herself outside in the barn.
“Lachlan is stopping by tonight,” Amara informs her one morning. “I hope you don’t mind, but his mother doesn’t approve and we need some place to stay.”
Georgia rolls her eyes. “Lachlan. Harry. Jacob. Peter. Roland. That guy from the market whose name you can’t even remember. I’m getting sick and tired of this, Amara!”
“Jealous?” she smirks coldly.
“Jealous? JEALOUS?!” Georgia shrieks.
“Look, honey, don’t blame me that you can’t find a man.”
Georgia’s mouth falls open as a hundred angry thoughts course through her mind, but her voice refuses to make a sound. Finally, she gets up and storms away, throwing on some clothes before slamming the front door behind her.
She spends all day away from the house, too furious to face her friend, until at last she collapses in front of a fire pit at the deserted town commons.
Georgia feels her breath catch in her chest. That voice…
“I am searching for a healer, a midwife to be more precise, and I was told that one lives in this village. Please, do you know where I may find her?”
She freezes, the realization hitting her like a bucket of ice water. Finally, after a long, painful pause, Georgia musters the courage to speak. “I am a healer, sir, and the only midwife on the island east of the city of Sarlat. Pray tell, how can I assist?”
“My wife…” the man trails off as Georgia finally turns to face him.
“Miss, please come with us,” the other man continues in an urgent tone. “The duchess has fallen ill, and we fear she may lose the baby.”
And I wrote too much again! XD But anyway. I realize Amara comes off as a total jerk during this update, but what I was trying to get at is that despite her apparent inability to stay faithful to Griffin (and not flaunt her many other
I STILL need to type up a page about my world, but for now have this map and a short explanation. Georgia and Amara live in the town of Lincolnshire. Well, Lincolnshire is more like their county, and the town is actually called Armagnac, but most people use the names Lincolnshire and Armagnac interchangeably when referring to their village. They live nearby the large, urban city of Sarlat on a chain of islands known as Everly Isles. However, the islands also make up the wealthy and fairly important state of Cotes d’ Ambonnay (hints the title “Duke of Ambonnay”) in the larger kingdom of Merida. The majority of Merida lies on the mainland continent just a short boat ride from the island, with the capital city of Praaven being the most important city there. Geographically, I think of the kingdom almost like England, if England was actually attached by land to continental Europe.
I don’t expect you all to remember any of this (except maybe the town name of Lincolnshire), but regardless here’s a simple map I put together to help. I know it’s confusing, so I will definitely try my best to write it clearly, but if you ever get confused please don’t hesitate to ask! I never mind answering questions. =)